Last night, I watched as announcements and reactions flooded Facebook because Genesee and then Lapeer County closed all of their schools for the rest of the week.
These closings come from fear. There’s the real, cold fear that Grand Blanc students felt as they pressed their faces against the floor on Wednesday as 911 was called due to false reports of gunfire. And there’s the fear that spreads in people’s minds and through their fingers to their keyboards. It appears at this point that the latter led to the former this week.
It’s easy to peddle fear. It gets instant reactions. We’ve seen it on TV this week with a cameraman sent to a school to secretly test all of the doors and run away when seen. We’ve seen it on Facebook and in the comments sections of local news websites with people arguing over locking all the doors, putting bars on windows, and arming all the staff. We’ve seen it in the reactions to official statements from schools and districts with claims of a conspiracy to get more vacation days. And so have our kids. They absorb the fear and also how easy it is to spread that fear.
Fear can be debilitating for them as they try to go about the business of school. Try to remember yourself as a student – not as the adult processing these concepts. Imagine how you would have felt if none of the adults at your school were allowed to talk to you about what happened at Sandy Hook. Imagine reading through the online arguing and hand-wringing. Then imagine how difficult it would be to dismiss a rumor that would have otherwise sounded ridiculous. Dangerous rumors can be stopped in a community not focused on fear. They can be stopped in their tracks and they can be reported.
Every school would love to create this kind of community. Every school wants to stop bullying, violence, drug abuse, apathy, and rumors. The quick fix is to employ scare tactics. Over the last couple of years, there has been an increase in the number of one-off presentations or assemblies that appear in schools where fear is the focus. These are typically led by someone who has suffered. It could be a recovering addict, a parent who has lost a child, or a current prison inmate. The message is, “If you do this bad thing, here is what will happen.” You can guarantee to have crying children by the end of the allotted time.
It should be clear that fear is not a good long-term motivator. It should also be clear that in Genesee County this week fear is not a short-term motivator, as a school massacre on Friday did nothing to quell the unconscionable behavior of a few on Wednesday. It is easy to see the appeal of these programs. They appease the basest of our needs – to scare our kids straight. We want to scare them because we’re scared. We don’t want to be that parent who loses a kid to drugs or suicide or jail. But those lost kids weren’t lost because they lacked fear.
Our kids need long term attention. They need schools that are committed to community over the long haul and use varied approaches for their varied kids. Schools should absolutely be partnering with experts from outside of the school community, but not just dropping money on pre-packaged programs. There needs to be a vision under which every effort fits.
Sandy Hook Elementary School is proud of their positive school climate. They stress community and kindness in very real ways – not just as words on the wall. There is no anti-bullying program because a school that is built around character doesn’t need any “anti” programs rooted in fear. Think about that foundation when you consider the stories of heroism that came out of Friday.
As we go into a long break from school, I urge everyone to think about where to go from here. Our kids deserve to be our focus and they deserve to spend their days at school as part of a community focused away from fear.